Is koson the same as bhoomi puja?

[Zilpha Modi]

Koson is a ritual in which culturally significant items, such as rice wine, ginger, egg, rice, paddy, etc, are offered to the guardian spirit, Sikimoi. In the Adi traditional worldview, Sikimoi is the guardian spirit of all the landmass and water bodies.
Sikimoi is regarded as being formless but omnipresent. On occasions such as clearing of a new patch of forest, either for building a house or for cultivation, koson is performed to acknowledge and appease Sikimoi. Before any kind of human intervention relating to land and water, it is not only important to seek the blessings of Sikimoi, but extremely essential to appease it.
This belief and practice is not exclusive to the Adi people. It is shared among many other tribal groups of Arunachal. In the recently concluded Indigenous Faith Day celebration in East Siang HQ Pasighat, this traditional ritual was performed in the context of building a new place of worship, the Donyi Polo Kumko. In the course of the celebration, the traditional ritual, koson, was, however, termed bhoomi pujan.
In fact, the term ‘bhoomi pujan’ was used to refer to the term ‘koson’. It therefore becomes important to ask whether the Hindu ritual bhoomi pujan is the same as the Adi ritual koson.
Bhoomi pujan is also an offering-based ritual, but the context in which it is performed is starkly different from koson. Not only are the gods different but also the belief, based on which the ritual is conducted, is fundamentally different.
Bhoomi pujan is deeply woven in the Hindu belief of vastu shastra, which in turn is drawn from the Hindu mythology of Vastu Purush. The principles of vastu shastra specify the northeast corner as the site for offering bhoomi pujan. Koson, on the other hand, is not only distant from such Hindu belief system but also historically and culturally distinct. Yet, many people consciously or unconsciously tend to equate indigenous rituals and belief systems of Arunachal, such as koson, with Hindu rituals. Such uncritical treatment of an indigenous ritual, coupled with the practice of replacing indigenous terms with Hindu terminologies, may completely displace the meaning of such rituals. This in the long run may not only endanger the indignity and authenticity of tribal beliefs and practices but, more importantly, lead to a situation opposite to what the Indigenous Faith Day was set to propagate and preserve. (Zilpha Modi is an assistant professor at the Arunachal Institute of Tribal Studies, RGU, Rono Hills.)